Thala History of South Indian Classical Music

The thala system of Carnatic music is perhaps the most sophisticated and involved in the world of music. There is no comparison to it in any other music systems of the world. The time measures used by all the nations put together will form but a small fraction of the innumerable varieties of rhythm used in South of India music. A Tamil writer Thunga Munivar emphasizes the intricate nature of the thala system in the following stanza:

“If one can see the form of the southern breeze, the form of Siva, the form of the scent, the form of Manmatha (Cupid), the form of the flute tone and the form of the Vedas, one can see the subtlety of the thala”

The developments of thala sol-fa and mnemonic system of South Indian drumming have contributed to the superior development of the thala system. It should be remembered, that when a mridangam player accompanies a musician (vocalist or instrumentalist) in India, he does not merely perform straight rhythmic patterns or sarva laghu, but provides a cross-rhythmical accompaniment based on the style, movement and rhythmical construction of the composition rendered. This rhythmic accompaniment provided by the mridangam player lends excellence to the concert of South Indian classical music and is a refreshing experience every time and each rendering may never be the same due to the spontaneous nature of the South Indian classical music being manodharmic in nature..

In the earlier period, Thalas were classified as Marga and Desi. Old music texts mention systems like the Marga and 120 Desi thalas and 108 Thalas, and Navasandhi (Nine) Thalas. These systems are however out of use and are known by some in theory and very few ever practice them Later a system of 35 thalas developed and Purandaradasa gave prominence to this less complex system by making it the basis of learning carnatic music, he composed fundamental lessons, alankaras, geethams and suladis in this thala system .While the 108 thalas make use of all the shadangas (six parts), the Suladi sapta thala scheme s use only the laghu, drutam and Anu drutam angas. In addition to these, a system of thalas known as the Nava Sandi thalas has been in the use in temple rituals from ancient times. There are also the Chapu thala varieties as well as the Desadi and Madhyadi thalas.

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